Topics: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Transcendentalism, Henry David Thoreau Pages: 9 (2348 words) Published: May 23, 2014

New England Transcendentalism Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, American Romanticism, American Renaissance

New England, What is Transcendentalism?, Transcendental Club

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New England
Backdrop to Events
During "The First Great Awakening" (1730 - 1770) a large proportion of colonial Americans took up with a revitalization of evangelical religious piety. This renewed Affirmation of Faith had largely arisen to counter the rationalistic currents of the Age of Enlightenment. The evangelisation associated with the First Great Awakening supported the view that being sincerely religious meant trusting the heart rather than the head, meant prizing feeling more than thinking, and meant relying on the Bible as THE souce of Divine Revelation rather than on human reason.

It happened that many people, particularly those of wealth and education in relatively settled areas of New England adopted a more "rational" approach to faith and adhered to Unitarianism or Deism. Unitarians tended to regard the Great Awakening as being prone to emotional excesses. Whilst the faith these Unitarians was doubtless sincere it often seemed, as time passed, to members of their own rising generation, to be somewhat dry and unable to satisfy deep spiritual yearnings.

New England
Ralph Waldo
Henry David
Margaret Fuller
Elizabeth Palmer
The Brook Farm

This then is the situation where the story of New England Transcendentalism more clearly begins.
Back in the Old World a heady "Romanticism" in arts and letters was displacing neoclassical Enlightenment values. Where "The Enlightenment" saw typical individuals "Romanticism" saw unique individuals. Where "The Enlightenment" prized rationality and science as routes to progress "Romanticism" preferred emotion, imagination, and intuition. Overall a cultural preference, by the "progressives" of one generation, for a mechanistic and rational world view was increasingly displaced by a cultural preference, as expressed by a more broad group of "progressives" in the rising generation, for a more organic, more emotional, and more imaginative form of society.



New England Transcendentalism Ralph Waldo Emerson

Alongside the emergent preference for Romanticism was a form of philosophic justification of the value of feeling and intuition as provided by Immanuel Kant (with adaptions as provided by such persons as Schelling and Coleridge). Kantian Idealism held that there was a Moral Law within people that shapes their impressions and that there was a set of innate principles with reference to which the mind gives form to its perceptions and interprets life experiences. Kant was sure that he had effected a "Copernican Revolution," persuasively suggesting that is the representation that makes the object possible rather than the object that makes the representation possible. Kant said there were experiences that could be acquired through "intuitions of the mind;" he referred to the "native spontaneity of the human mind." This introduced the human mind as an active originator of experience rather than a passive recipient. It also leaves the way dramatically open for the mind to be viewed as a creative, intuitive, and interpreting organism rather that a reactive and logical machine.

In Puritan and Unitarian New England the rising generation, who often felt that their inherited tradition of faith was insufficiently spiritually rewarding, became aware of Kantian Idealism, as adapted by others, into becoming an approach where the individual human being could hope to enjoy authentic spiritual experiences and intuitions. Reality could thus be...

Links: During "The First Great Awakening" (1730 - 1770) a large proportion of colonial
Americans took up with a revitalization of evangelical religious piety
On Christmas Day, 1832, Emerson left the United States for a tour of Europe where
he made the acquaintance of such literary notables as Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
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